I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

I will never forget as long as I live what Jackie Morse Kessler said to me on the eve of my wedding in 2002. Then, she was a burgeoning young writer of dark fantasy and the paranormal, was married and had two young boys. She was also our grooms-woman, as one of Matt’s dear friends from high school. Jackie is now a fantasy young adult author. http://www.jackiemorsekessler.com/. Over drinks after the rehearsal dinner, she explained how she woke up at an ungodly hour to write for a few hours (if my memory serves, it was 4AM) before her husband and two boys awoke.  She’d get the boys ready and see them off before she went to work at a consulting firm. I have this idyllic image of her lovingly making a hot breakfast for her family, kissing her husband as he left for work, and walking the boys to the bus stop, every day. I remember how impressed and amazed I was that she could do it all. I had to ask, “Jackie, when do you sleep?”  Without missing a beat she replied, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”.

Just recently I heard a story on NPR about Katherine Heiny, author of “Single, Carefree, Mellow”. http://www.npr.org/2015/03/17/393646735/the-long-road-to-single-carefree-mellow  She recounted a story about having her first child and struggling between wanting to spend all of her time with her baby and wanting to write. Heiny recounts a time when her mom said,  “You know, I raised you telling you you could have it all. And now I can see that's not true. And I feel bad for having told you that.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/02/books/katherine-heinys-road-to-single-carefree-mellow.html?_r=0

Wow, hearing that on the radio and then seeing it in print as I read the transcript later, really made me think. What does it really mean to “do it all”?  Is Heiny’s mother right?  What have I been doing all these years?  

I remember early on in my career, before the birth of my now eight-year-old daughter, asking more experienced musicians who had families how they balanced work and family. One colleague, Julie Sarver who plays piccolo with the Canton Symphony http://www.malone.edu/faculty/julie-sarver.php recommended continuing to practice piccolo at all hours while the baby was young so that she learned to sleep through it. Thanks Julie!  It totally worked. Maia sleeps through anything now and I can cram in practice at 11 PM if I need to. 

And that’s just it. Sometimes I do have to cram practice in at the 11th hour of a very long day at work, helping with homework, shuttling Maia off to piano lessons or other activities, making dinner, grading papers, and maybe squeezing in a grown-up conversation with my husband. 

I can’t help but to examine how my choice to have a family has impacted my career as a musician and educator. I have less time to sleep, to practice, to research new techniques or ideas for lessons. It takes me much longer to explore performing opportunities and to follow through with publicizing what I do. There is less income to spare for professional development (baby needs new shoes) and travel.  And there is less time to attend the many excellent and inspiring performances that are within walking/driving distance from my home. (Cleveland Orchestra, Akron Symphony, Canton Symphony, Wooster Chamber Music Series, Akron University, Oberlin Conservatory … and on and on). 

Having a family requires you to work around the rhythms and schedule of your children. Rehearsals with my co-flutist Kelly Mollnow Wilson http://wilsonflute.com/ in the Aella Flute Duo http://www.aellafluteduo.com/ are scheduled for after our girls leave for school and before we need to pick them up. When our kids are sick or when there are relentless snow days, as there were this winter, rehearsals are postponed and rescheduled.  

Most recently, I realized that not only is my daughter getting older and more involved in activities, my mom and my in-laws are also getting older and will likely someday in the not too distant future need more help. 

Being a working musician also poses significant challenges for my family life. 

When I teach in the evenings, I do not eat dinner with them. Orchestra rehearsals and performances as well as student recitals are often in the evenings and on the weekends. My house is often a mess, my weekends are often not free and as someone who is only working ¾-time, we are not in a position to jet off to a ski weekend in Aspen. So glad that I do not ski!  And please don’t even ask me when was the last time I went out with my husband.

The reality that this will likely not change any time soon sometimes smacks me in the face.  There are certainly days when I feel that I am doing a terrible job at everything.  But I have to remind myself that I get to make beautiful music that inspires me with colleagues who I respect and admire with Aella Flute Duo, Modern Muse www.modernmuse.voices.wooster.edu,  and the Ashland Symphony http://www.ashlandsymphony.org/ .  And while I may not get to attend Cleveland Orchestra concerts whenever I want and missed seeing Ian Clarke http://www.ianclarke.net/ perform at Oberlin, I do get to hear my own budding musician at her piano recitals, am able to help her with the Brownie Bake-Off, and view her works of art at the annual fine arts festival.  

I don’t know if it is possible to “do it all”.  I just know that I am doing what I love the best way I know how and though not perfect, this works my family.